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Kennewick woman in fatal DUI case back behind bars

A Kennewick woman charged with driving drunk when she killed another motorist in a September crash is back behind bars after reportedly making statements that she was going to leave town before trial.

Lori Ann Christensen, 48, was in custody Tuesday morning when she appeared in Franklin County Superior Court.

She had been free after posting bond on $100,000 bail, but court documents said she was surrendered by a bondsman for violating a bail restriction. The company wants to be released from its obligation for Christensen's bail.

Jail records show she was booked into the Franklin County jail at 8:41 p.m. Monday.

Deputy Prosecutor Brian Hultgrenn told the court that according to an affidavit filed by a bail bondsman, Christensen "indicated to someone she was going to flee." He asked Judge Cameron Mitchell to set her bail at $250,000 "to head that off."

Christensen's car slammed head-on into another car early Sept. 24 in Pasco after pulling out of a Motel 6 parking lot onto Oregon Avenue and crossing the center line.

Her car collided at 5:30 a.m. with a car driven by Orlando Abarca-Rivera. The 35-year-old Pasco man died.

Christensen told police she had had a couple of beers the night before, court documents said. A firefighter at the scene also told Washington State Patrol troopers that he could smell alcohol on her, documents said.

Christensen said she was late for work delivering newspapers for her husband, who was an independent contractor for the Tri-City Herald.

Christensen pleaded innocent Tuesday to an amended vehicular homicide charge that alleges she drove "under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs or in a reckless manner, which was the proximate cause of injury" to Abarca-Rivera.

Defense attorney Bob Thompson asked to court to set a bail hearing next Tuesday.

Hultgrenn wanted it immediately set at $250,000 to avoid the possibility of her getting out, then the issue could be addressed next week.

Mitchell decided that bail would remain at $100,000 and said Christensen will be in custody until a new bond is posted.

Her trial is scheduled for Sept. 28, but the lawyers Tuesday agreed to move it to Sept. 21 because of a conflict with a witness.

Luna Luna's lawyers say expert hard to schedule

Lawyers for a 32-year-old man accused of fatally stabbing his former girlfriend said they are having trouble finding an expert to evaluate their client.

Psychiatrists at Eastern State Hospital said Gregorio Luna Luna was legally sane at the time of the May 2010 crime and is competent to stand trial for first-degree murder.

But Shelley Ajax and Karla Kane, who first raised concerns about her client's mental health in mid-March, want an independent evaluation.

Ajax told Judge Robert Swisher on Tuesday that she has "made pretty extensive efforts" to find someone but found out through the Washington State Psychological Association there are only four qualified individuals in the state.

She has talked to all four, and only one can take on the case but is out of the country and not available until October.

Ajax said she is looking for a psychologist in a "specific area" with required certification. She wouldn't give further details, but added that the state psychiatrists in Medical Lake made their determination without this certification.

The problem is she can't get funding by the Office of Public Defense of Benton and Franklin Counties to find an expert in another state without court approval first.

"I defer to the court as far as what my next move should be in this case," Ajax said.

Swisher questioned if the defense has looked in Portland, saying that area is as easily accessible as Seattle and shouldn't create excessive transportation costs to the Tri-Cities.

Ajax said she has found a couple of people outside Washington, including one in California, but would contact the Oregon Bar Association for recommendations.

"I don't understand why, I mean, I thought there were plenty of professionals qualified to examine and render an opinion in this. And I don't understand fully the trouble you're having in getting an expert here," Swisher said.

He authorized the Office of Public Defense to give Luna Luna's lawyers money if they find an expert in Oregon. The judge also set another hearing for Sept. 6 to keep the case moving along.

Luna Luna's case has been on hold while his sanity and competency was in doubt. No trial date is set.

He is accused of killing Griselda Ocampo Meza. The 21-year-old woman and mother of his 5-year-old son died inside her Pasco apartment from a single stab wound to her chest.

The couple's longtime relationship had ended about four months earlier.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com

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